Heimlich famed for maneuver
Technique saved many victims of choking
cincinnati» The surgeon who created the lifesaving Heimlich maneuver for choking victims died early Saturday in Cincinnati. Dr. Henry Heimlich was 96.
His son, Phil, said he died at Christ Hospital after suffering a heart attack earlier in the Heimlich week.
“My father was a great man who saved many lives,” said Heimlich, an attorney and former Hamilton County commissioner. “He will be missed not only by his family but by all of humanity.”
Heimlich was director of surgery at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati in 1974 when he devised the treatment for choking victims that made his name a household word.
Rescuers using the procedure abruptly squeeze a victim’s abdomen, pushing in and above the navel with the fist to create a flow of air from the lungs. That flow of air then can push objects out of the windpipe and prevent suffocation.
Much of Heimlich’s 2014 autobiography focuses on the maneuver, which involves thrusts to the abdomen that apply upward pressure on the diaphragm to create an air flow that forces food or other objects out of the windpipe.
The Cincinnati chest surgeon told The Associated Press in a February 2014 interview that thousands of deaths reported annually from choking prompted him in 1972 to seek a solution. During the next two years, he led a team of researchers at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati. He successfully tested the technique by putting a tube with a balloon at one end down an anesthetized dog’s airway until it choked. He then used the maneuver to force the dog to expel the obstruction.
The Wilmington, Del., native estimated the maneuver has saved the lives of thousands of choking victims in the United States alone. It earned him several awards and worldwide recognition. His name became a household word.
The maneuver was adopted by public health authorities, airlines and restaurant associations, and Heimlich appeared on shows including the “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “Today.”
His views on how the maneuver should be used and on other innovations he created or proposed put him at odds with some in the health field. He said his memoir was an effort to preserve his technique.
“I know the maneuver saves lives, and I want it to be used and remembered,” he told The AP.
The maneuver has continued to make headlines. Clint Eastwood was attending a golf event in Monterey, Calif., in 2014 when the then-83-year-old actor saw the tournament director choking on a piece of cheese and successfully performed the technique.
“The best thing about it is that it allows anyone to save a life,” Heimlich told The AP.
In 2016, Heimlich himself was the hero, saving a woman choking on food at his senior living center.
Heimlich said the maneuver is very effective when used correctly, but he did not approve of American Red Cross guidelines calling for back blows followed by abdominal thrusts in choking cases that don’t involve infants or unconscious victims. Red Cross officials said evidence shows using multiple methods can be more effective, but Heimlich said blows can drive obstructions deeper into a windpipe.
The elder Heimlich attended Cornell University undergraduate and medical schools and interned at Boston City Hospital. During World War II, the U.S. Navy sent him to northwest China in 1942 to treat Chinese and American forces behind Japanese lines in the Gobi Desert.
Heimlich’s wife, Jane, daughter of the late dance teacher Arthur Murray, died in November 2012.